The Mumbai-based film-maker talks about the role of animation films in addressing social and environmental issues, and how to make it engaging for children
“Do you know that Mumbai used to be seven different islands joined together over time to create a big city?”; “It is still an island city that needs to be protected from the dangers of the sea. This is the job of the shorekeepers — mangroves.” Chetan Sharma’s four-minute-long animation film Mangroves Shorekeepers of Mumbai starts with some throught-provoking questions and facts about mangroves and why they need to be conserved.
Conceptualised, written and directed by Chetan, the film was released ahead of the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem marked on July 26. “One of the important elements of an animation film is that it allows you to personify the subject and it eventually becomes a part of you. This way you can arouse the curiosity of a child towards a serious topic like mangrove conservation,” says the Mumbai-based illustrator during a telephonic interview. In the film, a little crow is introduced to the forests on Mumbai’s coastline. He meets, first with disbelief, then with awe, the amazing shore-keepers of Mumbai -mangroves.
“The value of animation as a story-based medium to address serious topics is largely untapped in India. Our focus has mostly been to highlight social and environmental issues, and weave together an engaging story to get the viewer emotionally invested,” says Chetan, who founded the animation studio Animagic India. He dons several hats today— film-maker, animator, writer, designer and voice-over artist.
While he has illustrated for several children’s books for major publishing houses, Chetan says writing for animation films is a different thing all together. “Everything is heightened in animation. There is a lot of pace and exaggerations to engage the viewers. That’s why we see a lot of animation films in the musical format,” he adds.
Chetan had earlier too worked on environmental theme films such as Seed — The Untold Story, a film about how GMO crops are disrupting natural seeds and indigenous communities.
But the one that is close to his heart is his award-winning animation film Raju and I, which won the National Film Award for best animation film in 2005. The 30-minute-long film dealt on the subject of child rights and child abuse.
Chetan is currently working on a feature story on tiger conservation with children as the central characters. “It is an adventure story but is meant to raise curiosity in children and sensitise them,” he says.
Talking about the challenges of the Indian animation film industry, Chetan says: “Mostly homogeneous kind of works are seen in the children’s animation film space. Anybody trying to take a creative approach finds it an upward climb to find the support and reach. More recognition and awareness has to happen.”
Chetan is currently working on a narrative book on mangroves in association with a Mumbai-based NGO, and on The Grand Chapati Contest written by Asha Nehemiah for Duckbill Books.
(The film is available in the YouTube channel Animagic India)